Monday, June 24, 2013

The Comet.










Movies like Meteor, or Deep Impact, or the appallingly bad Space Cowboys always fucking piss me off, for some reason. I don’t plan on seeing 2012, anytime soon.

I’m not much of a scientist, although I taught grades six and seven for about thirty years at a couple of different schools in Des Plaines, and I was happy enough doing that. It seemed like such a privilege to help mould young minds; that is until I saw what happened to those minds when they became adults. For some reason some of, ‘the most brilliant young minds of our times,’ don’t even know the simplest, most basic facts of math, physics, or chemistry, or even that most uncommon of all things, common sense. As a teacher, I hate feeling like a total, abject failure, but that sort of thing happens from time to time. For some reason the human rejects seem to do awfully well later in life. It doesn’t seem fair for some reason. Some of the worst students go on to become doctors, lawyers, or newspaper editors, but our society is pretty sick to begin with. And science isn’t about the quest for truth or knowledge, it’s about patent applications and making money out of poorly-tested products that ultimately cause more harm than good. I suppose I saw them young, before they realized their true potential. And the old are entitled to be grumpy once in a while. I had always believed I would develop more patience as I aged. I was wrong! Oh, so wrong. But as our allotted time gets shorter, the value of time seems to go up proportionately. I guess you could say that the old appreciate life, while the young just seem to take it for granted.

So when a young guy that I taught years before showed up in the bar on a Friday night, and latched onto me like a long-lost friend, I had to be tolerant. I had to accept the fact that the boy I always thought of as, ‘poor Billy,’ had been hired by a prominent firm, a member of our military-industrial complex; and that he was in the business of making tools and devices for killing people. Sure enough, he caught sight of me and his eyes lit up.

“Mister Prentice,” he bellowed the length of the bar.

There wasn’t much point in slouching down in my seat at that point, was there?

Sometimes you just know. We spent some time reminiscing about old school chums, good times and bad times. Predictably enough, it wasn’t long before he started in on the complaints about his career, his wife, his job. It seems his wife didn’t understand him. He told me that three times before quaffing off his fourth martini and ordering another.

My unspoken comment, “I think she understands you very, very well,” remained unsaid.

It didn’t take too long before William, as he liked to call himself now, was drunk. And I mean stupidly drunk, where he was telling me stuff that he shouldn’t. Although I’m glad he did, as it gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save the world.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” he slurred, then burped; then looked around with a guilty look: obviously married, in the worst possible way.

“Then don’t,” I replied shortly.

Some guys just can’t take a hint. He sure couldn’t, but that’s perhaps for the best, as was quickly demonstrated.

“There’s a comet,” he confessed, with a look of raw desperation. “It’s headed this way. It’s top-secret, of course, but you’re all right. I know you won’t tell.”

His eyes burned into mine.

Ah, yes; the masturbation incident. He was actually a little young for it at the time, but he had been reading some book—I think it was Desmond Morris’ ‘The Naked Ape,’ or something.

And he had tried it. Apparently his first climax was achieved while clutching that book, and following along like some kind of instruction manual. Morris’ rather clinical description of the higher primates engaging in sexual intercourse, was the chapter that did it. A lot of the kids passed that book around, and I eventually confiscated it. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t know what’s in it. It seems he got scared when nothing came out! His first climax was a dry one. And he couldn’t talk to anyone at home. His parents were right lunatics. They’d beaten an older brother half to death once when he was about fourteen years old and had come down with a cold.

His mom had found a few facial tissues in his waste-paper basket, and predictably enough, drawn the obvious-but-mistaken conclusion. As a teacher, I despise a certain kind of parent, but we have to treat them all like gold, or we get sued for a half a billion dollars or something ludicrous like that. The school board frowns on that sort of thing. It’s okay for the parents to foul up the kids, try to teach them anything useful, or accurate; or arcane notions, like evolution, or freedom of inquiry, and they get uptight. Recently the government of Canada has decreed that the subject of homosexuality, in conjunction with other sex education, has to be dealt with in the schools, beginning in grade four. Yet it is the parents, some of whose children are homosexuals, or will be later in life, that are objecting to the subject being dealt with in any terms other than outright condemnation. It is only after their kids have been beaten to death by the side of the road, that they realize that a parent can forgive a child for anything, even things the child could not control. We’re supposed to teach the kids tolerance, and the kids would be fine at that age.

It’s the parents who can’t hack it; it’s the parents who are truly ignorant.

I taught his brother history in grade seven, and quite frankly the bruises, the half-healed gashes and cuts were something to make one’s blood boil. Greg is doing eleven life sentences in some maximum-security prison out west somewhere. His record is a long litany of violent, sexual crimes against women, oddly enough. No, Greg is not a homosexual, he’s merely a violent psychopath.

Somehow that’s more socially acceptable, at least in his own mind.

Half the people in the Bible were violent psychopaths, unless I’m reading it wrong.

With a wrench I pulled myself back to the present day, and tried to show a little compassion, although I had this particular former student pegged as the classic, ‘A-type personality,’ which is a scholarly euphemism for the nethermost regions of the alimentary canal. I suppose he can’t help it. The upbringing has a huge influence, which even the best teachers can seldom correct. William was telling me that the meteor was going to hit the Earth, and we were all going to die, and there was no way that they could build a big enough nuclear weapon to, ‘vaporize it,’ in his words, and that’s when I put on my little thinking cap.

“See, I think you’re going at it all wrong,” I suggested in a gentle tone.

“No, no, we just can’t build a big enough friggin’ device,” he insisted. “That’s the only way we’re going to stop it.”

It seems the usual missiles and rockets just weren’t big enough to carry a zillion-megaton bomb. After all, they had been designed to drop much smaller bombs on our neighbor’s heads.

By destroying the world we prevent our enemies from winning, or something deucedly logical like that. They can design it, they can build it; they can test thousands of them to make sure they’re going to work. They can even use them from time to time. For some reason they can’t call it what it is: a bomb. I guess that’s considered rude.

I suppose I’d had a couple or three drinks myself; by this time, otherwise my patience would have held out against any assault.

“Dispersed gases,” I told him, and I don’t know where that came from.

Somewhere in the subconscious mind, I suppose.

“What?” he asked. “Dispersed what?”

William had his doctorate, for Christ’s sakes, and yet every one of them buggers all think the same way; the benefit of higher education. They all think like they’re supposed to. So I said it again.

“Dispersed gases,” I told him. “The meteor goes through a cloud of dispersed gases, and then it heats up from friction. It begins to outgas. That’s a verb, William. It radiates them in all directions, in a semi-spheroid pattern. Most of its mass won’t even approach Earth. You must have twenty or thirty thousand smaller missiles lying round, gathering dust, no good to anyone that way…perhaps you should use some of them up, before mice gnaw the insulation off all the wires and they self-ignite…”

William had talked about the comet’s transit past Saturn and Jupiter, and a couple of smaller planets. Let their gravity catch a-hold of some of that mass, while it was a liquid or a gas, and in the midst of decomposing from simple, abrasive heat. The key was to start a little earlier, and use just enough of it, or approximately one zillion megatons.

He sat up a bit then.

“What are you getting at?” he gasped in new-found hope.

“Think of it as driving a nail into a pencil lengthwise,” I offered. “If that comet had to go through something like a jet contrail, lengthwise, the heat of friction, from all the dispersed gases, say helium, or hydrogen, any kind of gas will do, although the denser the better…hell! You could use black powder from a bunch of firecrackers, if you wanted to do it on the cheap.”

Sure the world would go through a few years of climate upheaval. It would cost the taxpayers, who would have to subsidize the big corporations in order to guarantee massive profits, but at least the common man would still have a planetary biosphere to inhabit. And the bombs had all been paid off at the bank decades ago.

“That’s…that’s…” he said, wild-eyed, and no wonder.

The man was piss-drunk, and he was confronting the issue of calling the boss while under the influence and not in a very organized state of mind. “Brilliant!”

“It’s not brilliant at all,” I told him with just a hint of heat in my voice.

It suddenly occurred to me that William must have cheated on Section Five of our science class.

“You should have read the book, William,” I told him. “You get all your science off of the movie screen, or out of some crappy science-fiction book from some rank amateur who thinks kids floating through the air on a bike is cute.”

I couldn’t help it. It just came out that way. His pale, insipid, wishy-washy blue eyes stared into mine. Then he slapped his thigh, pulled a little phone out of some inner recess, and hit the ‘speed-dial’ button.

“Can you explain that, over the phone?” he asked in an agony of suspense.

Perhaps there was some hope for William after all. Sometimes massive forces, applied crudely, and all at once, just won’t work. Maybe he’ll get it someday.

“Of course, you ninny,” and he grinned a little at that.

Teachers have to say something, after all. That one was socially acceptable, although the parents and school board wouldn’t have liked it much. So William muttered away for a couple of minutes, while I checked my watch as unobtrusively as possible, wishing I were somewhere else. Then he handed me the phone.

I had to explain it again a couple of times, about little puff-balls of smoke or gases all lined up in a row ahead of the meteor, and how the thing would arrive in Earth’s vicinity as just a big clump of steam; without enough kinetic energy to cause any harm or penetrate the atmosphere, et cetera. Usually a couple of beers are enough for me. William’s company made my skin crawl, and I pounded back another. I’ve never thought of myself as an ugly drunk, but maybe the medications, the pain-pills and the alcohol were an unlucky combination.

I had to explain that if you took a half of a tenth of one percent of velocity off of that comet, there’s no way it could hit the Earth. I tried to explain how a simple bomb-blast behind the comet, up nice and close, in the cone of shadow where the sun’s light pressure was shielded by the body of the comet itself, would inevitably guarantee that the comet would pass behind and outside the orbit of the Earth harmlessly, but I don’t think he was actually capable of understanding that part. Perhaps it simply wasn’t an expensive enough option for his line of thinking.

After a long conversation with some four-star cluster-fuck in Washington, I handed William back the phone. Making my excuses, I headed for the washroom to relieve myself. Just coincidentally, the rear exit is right there, out of sight of the main lounge. I bought a huge cup of coffee at a well-known retailer, and went home. I haven’t been sleeping much lately, to tell the truth.

Sometimes I sit out back on a starry night and just enjoy the sky. And I’m glad I got the chance to talk to William. The universe is just too beautiful to let shit-heads, and ass-holes, and guys like William fuck it up for the rest of us. Incidentally, I heard later that ‘poor Billy’ got a big promotion. He lives in Cupertino, California, and makes about four hundred thousand dollars a year, and in a recent news story, it seems he got a fifty-million dollar bonus at Christmas.

The little creep never even called me or anything. But who knows? Maybe he blacked out and doesn’t even remember talking to me! It’s scary when you think of people like that involved in our national security.

About a year and a half later, a few of us schoolteachers were invited to the White House. our new president is big on beer, pretzels and, if it seems justified, a quiet conversation in the back room. She gave me some new medal that no one has ever heard of, and apparently, ‘If I’m ever out of work…’

I told her, “No fucking thanks, Madame President.”

I hope she accepts my decision in this matter. You see, I’m a Democrat, and I can’t stand them lying Republicans. About half of them should be put up against a wall and shot. The other half are just fine where they are, beating their kids half to death, promoting ignorance and bigotry, and preventing poor people from enjoying the common benefits of civil society. They make regular people look much better than they really are. Don’t take my word for it. Just sit back and watch for a while. Sit back and observe objectively.

Lately the stars seem a little dimmer at night, or perhaps my eyes are going. We all have to get old sometime. I’m tired, and I suppose that’s a good thing. It makes death look so much more attractive. You want the truth? I have cancer. I’m not in pain or anything, what with all the medications they’ve been giving me lately. I’ve had all the treatments. There is nothing further anyone can do for me. On the plus side, my wife is dead, my kids are all grown up, and I don’t owe anyone any money. I’m an only child, and my parents are long gone, although I do have an elderly aunt in Detroit. And I’m very grateful for all the kindnesses, of course.

There are times when I kind of resent saving the world.

I just know damned well they’re going to bury me with that fucking medal on my chest, and if I’m lucky, my granddaughter Sarah will put a little package of chocolate-chip cookies in there too, and maybe a little note saying how much she loves me.

Movies like ‘Meteor,’ or ‘Deep Impact,’ or the appallingly bad, ‘Space Cowboys’ always fucking piss me off, for some reason. I don’t plan on seeing ‘2012,’ anytime soon.


I’m not much of a scientist, although I taught grades six and seven for about thirty years at a couple of different schools in Des Plaines, and I was happy enough doing that. It seemed like such a privilege to help mould young minds; that is until I saw what happened to those minds when they became adults. For some reason some of, ‘the most brilliant young minds of our times,’ don’t even know the simplest, most basic facts of math, physics, or chemistry, or even that most uncommon of all things, common sense. As a teacher, I hate feeling like a total, abject failure, but that sort of thing happens from time to time. For some reason the human rejects seem to do awfully well later in life. It doesn’t seem fair for some reason. Some of the worst students go on to become doctors, lawyers, or newspaper editors, but our society is pretty sick to begin with. And science isn’t about the quest for truth or knowledge, it’s about patent applications and making money out of poorly-tested products that ultimately cause more harm than good. I suppose I saw them young, before they realized their true potential. And the old are entitled to be grumpy once in a while. I had always believed I would develop more patience as I aged. I was wrong! Oh, so wrong. But as our allotted time gets shorter, the value of time seems to go up proportionately. I guess you could say that the old appreciate life, while the young just seem to take it for granted.

So when a young guy that I taught years before showed up in the bar on a Friday night, and latched onto me like a long-lost friend, I had to be tolerant. I had to accept the fact that the boy I always thought of as, ‘poor Billy,’ had been hired by a prominent firm, a member of our military-industrial complex; and that he was in the business of making tools and devices for killing people. Sure enough, he caught sight of me and his eyes lit up.

“Mister Prentice,” he bellowed the length of the bar.

There wasn’t much point in slouching down in my seat at that point, was there?

Sometimes you just know. We spent some time reminiscing about old school chums, good times and bad times. Predictably enough, it wasn’t long before he started in on the complaints about his career, his wife, his job. It seems his wife didn’t understand him. He told me that three times before quaffing off his fourth martini and ordering another.

My unspoken comment, “I think she understands you very, very well,” remained unsaid.

It didn’t take too long before William, as he liked to call himself now, was drunk. And I mean stupidly drunk, where he was telling me stuff that he shouldn’t. Although I’m glad he did, as it gave me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to save the world.

“I shouldn’t be telling you this,” he slurred, then burped; then looked around with a guilty look: obviously married, in the worst possible way.

“Then don’t,” I replied shortly.

Some guys just can’t take a hint. He sure couldn’t, but that’s perhaps for the best, as was quickly demonstrated.

“There’s a comet,” he confessed, with a look of raw desperation. “It’s headed this way. It’s top-secret, of course, but you’re all right. I know you won’t tell.”

His eyes burned into mine.

Ah, yes; the masturbation incident. He was actually a little young for it at the time, but he had been reading some book—I think it was Desmond Morris’ ‘The Naked Ape,’ or something.

And he had tried it. Apparently his first climax was achieved while clutching that book, and following along like some kind of instruction manual. Morris’ rather clinical description of the higher primates engaging in sexual intercourse, was the chapter that did it. A lot of the kids passed that book around, and I eventually confiscated it. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t know what’s in it. It seems he got scared when nothing came out! His first climax was a dry one. And he couldn’t talk to anyone at home. His parents were right lunatics. They’d beaten an older brother half to death once when he was about fourteen years old and had come down with a cold.

His mom had found a few facial tissues in his waste-paper basket, and predictably enough, drawn the obvious-but-mistaken conclusion. As a teacher, I despise a certain kind of parent, but we have to treat them all like gold, or we get sued for a half a billion dollars or something ludicrous like that. The school board frowns on that sort of thing. It’s okay for the parents to foul up the kids, try to teach them anything useful, or accurate; or arcane notions, like evolution, or freedom of inquiry, and they get uptight. Recently the government of Canada has decreed that the subject of homosexuality, in conjunction with other sex education, has to be dealt with in the schools, beginning in grade four. Yet it is the parents, some of whose children are homosexuals, or will be later in life, that are objecting to the subject being dealt with in any terms other than outright condemnation. It is only after their kids have been beaten to death by the side of the road, that they realize that a parent can forgive a child for anything, even things the child could not control. We’re supposed to teach the kids tolerance, and the kids would be fine at that age.

It’s the parents who can’t hack it; it’s the parents who are truly ignorant.

I taught his brother history in grade seven, and quite frankly the bruises, the half-healed gashes and cuts were something to make one’s blood boil. Greg is doing eleven life sentences in some maximum-security prison out west somewhere. His record is a long litany of violent, sexual crimes against women, oddly enough. No, Greg is not a homosexual, he’s merely a violent psychopath.

Somehow that’s more socially acceptable, at least in his own mind.

Half the people in the Bible were violent psychopaths, unless I’m reading it wrong.

With a wrench I pulled myself back to the present day, and tried to show a little compassion, although I had this particular former student pegged as the classic, ‘A-type personality,’ which is a scholarly euphemism for the nethermost regions of the alimentary canal. I suppose he can’t help it. The upbringing has a huge influence, which even the best teachers can seldom correct. William was telling me that the meteor was going to hit the Earth, and we were all going to die, and there was no way that they could build a big enough nuclear weapon to, ‘vaporize it,’ in his words, and that’s when I put on my little thinking cap.

“See, I think you’re going at it all wrong,” I suggested in a gentle tone.

“No, no, we just can’t build a big enough friggin’ device,” he insisted. “That’s the only way we’re going to stop it.”

It seems the usual missiles and rockets just weren’t big enough to carry a zillion-megaton bomb. After all, they had been designed to drop much smaller bombs on our neighbor’s heads.

By destroying the world we prevent our enemies from winning, or something deucedly logical like that. They can design it, they can build it; they can test thousands of them to make sure they’re going to work. They can even use them from time to time. For some reason they can’t call it what it is: a bomb. I guess that’s considered rude.

I suppose I’d had a couple or three drinks myself; by this time, otherwise my patience would have held out against any assault.

“Dispersed gases,” I told him, and I don’t know where that came from.

Somewhere in the subconscious mind, I suppose.

“What?” he asked. “Dispersed what?”

William had his doctorate, for Christ’s sakes, and yet every one of them buggers all think the same way; the benefit of higher education. They all think like they’re supposed to. So I said it again.

“Dispersed gases,” I told him. “The meteor goes through a cloud of dispersed gases, and then it heats up from friction. It begins to outgas. That’s a verb, William. It radiates them in all directions, in a semi-spheroid pattern. Most of its mass won’t even approach Earth. You must have twenty or thirty thousand smaller missiles lying round, gathering dust, no good to anyone that way…perhaps you should use some of them up, before mice gnaw the insulation off all the wires and they self-ignite…”

William had talked about the comet’s transit past Saturn and Jupiter, and a couple of smaller planets. Let their gravity catch a-hold of some of that mass, while it was a liquid or a gas, and in the midst of decomposing from simple, abrasive heat. The key was to start a little earlier, and use just enough of it, or approximately one zillion megatons.

He sat up a bit then.

“What are you getting at?” he gasped in new-found hope.

“Think of it as driving a nail into a pencil lengthwise,” I offered. “If that comet had to go through something like a jet contrail, lengthwise, the heat of friction, from all the dispersed gases, say helium, or hydrogen, any kind of gas will do, although the denser the better…hell! You could use black powder from a bunch of firecrackers, if you wanted to do it on the cheap.”

Sure the world would go through a few years of climate upheaval. It would cost the taxpayers, who would have to subsidize the big corporations in order to guarantee massive profits, but at least the common man would still have a planetary biosphere to inhabit. And the bombs had all been paid off at the bank decades ago.

“That’s…that’s…” he said, wild-eyed, and no wonder.

The man was piss-drunk, and he was confronting the issue of calling the boss while under the influence and not in a very organized state of mind. “Brilliant!”

“It’s not brilliant at all,” I told him with just a hint of heat in my voice.

It suddenly occurred to me that William must have cheated on Section Five of our science class.

“You should have read the book, William,” I told him. “You get all your science off of the movie screen, or out of some crappy science-fiction book from some rank amateur who thinks kids floating through the air on a bike is cute.”

I couldn’t help it. It just came out that way. His pale, insipid, wishy-washy blue eyes stared into mine. Then he slapped his thigh, pulled a little phone out of some inner recess, and hit the ‘speed-dial’ button.

“Can you explain that, over the phone?” he asked in an agony of suspense.

Perhaps there was some hope for William after all. Sometimes massive forces, applied crudely, and all at once, just won’t work. Maybe he’ll get it someday.

“Of course, you ninny,” and he grinned a little at that.

Teachers have to say something, after all. That one was socially acceptable, although the parents and school board wouldn’t have liked it much. So William muttered away for a couple of minutes, while I checked my watch as unobtrusively as possible, wishing I were somewhere else. Then he handed me the phone.

I had to explain it again a couple of times, about little puff-balls of smoke or gases all lined up in a row ahead of the meteor, and how the thing would arrive in Earth’s vicinity as just a big clump of steam; without enough kinetic energy to cause any harm or penetrate the atmosphere, et cetera. Usually a couple of beers are enough for me. William’s company made my skin crawl, and I pounded back another. I’ve never thought of myself as an ugly drunk, but maybe the medications, the pain-pills and the alcohol were an unlucky combination.

I had to explain that if you took a half of a tenth of one percent of velocity off of that comet, there’s no way it could hit the Earth. I tried to explain how a simple bomb-blast behind the comet, up nice and close, in the cone of shadow where the sun’s light pressure was shielded by the body of the comet itself, would inevitably guarantee that the comet would pass behind and outside the orbit of the Earth harmlessly, but I don’t think he was actually capable of understanding that part. Perhaps it simply wasn’t an expensive enough option for his line of thinking.

After a long conversation with some four-star cluster-fuck in Washington, I handed William back the phone. Making my excuses, I headed for the washroom to relieve myself. Just coincidentally, the rear exit is right there, out of sight of the main lounge. I bought a huge cup of coffee at a well-known retailer, and went home. I haven’t been sleeping much lately, to tell the truth.

Sometimes I sit out back on a starry night and just enjoy the sky. And I’m glad I got the chance to talk to William. The universe is just too beautiful to let shit-heads, and ass-holes, and guys like William fuck it up for the rest of us. Incidentally, I heard later that ‘poor Billy’ got a big promotion. He lives in Cupertino, California, and makes about four hundred thousand dollars a year, and in a recent news story, it seems he got a fifty-million dollar bonus at Christmas.

The little creep never even called me or anything. But who knows? Maybe he blacked out and doesn’t even remember talking to me! It’s scary when you think of people like that involved in our national security.

About a year and a half later, a few of us schoolteachers were invited to the White House. our new president is big on beer, pretzels and, if it seems justified, a quiet conversation in the back room. She gave me some new medal that no one has ever heard of, and apparently, ‘If I’m ever out of work…’

I told her, “No fucking thanks, Madame President.”

I hope she accepts my decision in this matter. You see, I’m a Democrat, and I can’t stand them lying Republicans. About half of them should be put up against a wall and shot. The other half are just fine where they are, beating their kids half to death, promoting ignorance and bigotry, and preventing poor people from enjoying the common benefits of civil society. They make regular people look much better than they really are. Don’t take my word for it. Just sit back and watch for a while. Sit back and observe objectively.

Lately the stars seem a little dimmer at night, or perhaps my eyes are going. We all have to get old sometime. I’m tired, and I suppose that’s a good thing. It makes death look so much more attractive. You want the truth? I have cancer. I’m not in pain or anything, what with all the medications they’ve been giving me lately. I’ve had all the treatments. There is nothing further anyone can do for me. On the plus side, my wife is dead, my kids are all grown up, and I don’t owe anyone any money. I’m an only child, and my parents are long gone, although I do have an elderly aunt in Detroit. And I’m very grateful for all the kindness, of course.

There are times when I kind of resent saving the world.

I just know damned well they’re going to bury me with that fucking medal on my chest, and if I’m lucky, my granddaughter Sarah will put a little package of chocolate-chip cookies in there too, and maybe a little note saying how much she loves me.

END

'The Comet' appears in 'The Paranoid Cat and other tales,' available from fine online retailers everywhere.
http://www.amazon.com/The-Paranoid-Cat-other-tales/dp/0987972391

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wheel of Misfortune.

Germanname1990 (Wiki.)







“Hi, everybody, and welcome to tonight’s show. That’s right, it’s time for Wheel of Misfortune again, with our genial and always immaculately dressed host Gene Halley. “

The studio swelled with applause as announcer Rick Burdette, standing off in the wings, paused and the jingle faded out.

“Maisy Clark of Oklahoma City! Come on down!”

“Squee!” The lady in question, suitably dressed in a chicken suit, cast aside a sign that read ‘Pick Me! Pick Me!’ in big green letters.

She bounced up and down clapping and turned to her companions for quick hugs and congratulations.

“Maisy joins Steve Aberarder of Croswell, Michigan, last week’s biggest loser with absolutely no points, and Edward Swartmore, who joined the panel of contestants at the end of the show with the demise of reigning champion Frannie Macpherson. And now, the man of the hour, my friend, and your host with the most, Gene Halley.”

Gene stepped out of the back and quickly scooted across highly-polished black tiles to his futuristic rostrum, which was both a sort of homage to the Jetsons and a throwback to Art Deco and neon art.

Extending an arm, Gene welcomed Sharon Moutif, his hostess and the lady who actually turned the letters, and her bouncing charge, brought down from the audience, Maisy Clark. With a brilliant smile, Sharon took her place beside the big board.

Maisy took a quick look back and flung a kiss to her hometown contingent including her husband and three kids, plus a half dozen others all in home-made costumes and hats. Contestants were selected from the line-up before studio opening, and personality and originality the lady clearly had in abundance.

Taking a quick look at his cue cards, Gene spoke into the camera lens with a charming gleam in his eye, perfect enunciation and a smooth, oily delivery.

“Maisy’s a rock climber, Zen gardener, master chef and runs a daycare when she’s not being a mother of five. Always active in the PTA and Welcome Wagon, we welcome to the show, Maisy Clark.”

She giggled and gave a little wave.

“Thank you!”

“Okay, Maisy, you give the wheel a spin and we’ll try and solve the puzzle, which has three words.”

The panels lit up as Sharon Moutif, resplendent in a black gown and pearls, with pendant earrings and patent black pumps, posed with an arm raised elegantly to draw attention to the board.

“The category is American History. American History, for a hundred points.”

Maisy took a firm grip and spun the wheel. Happy music played and an overhead camera showed it on studio monitors for the in-house audience as the signal was seamlessly cut in by the director and switcher so the home TV audience worldwide could see what was happening too.

The wheel slowed and the pointer after some hesitation settled on the number sixty.

“Wow! Sixty bonus points riding on this round.” Gene beamed at the audience behind the cameras, every move and inflection caught perfectly.

“Okay, Steve, give her a spin. I mean the wheel, Steve.” The audience chuckled appreciatively as Sharon pouted and stood with her hands on her hips.

The fellow stepped up to the rail and gave the horizontally mounted wheel a monumental heave.

While they were waiting for it to stop, Gene went on.

“Steve’s an avid ice-fisherman, a volunteer fire-fighter, and coaches little league baseball when he’s not busy running Steve’s Pizza in downtown Croswell.”

The wheel stopped on twenty.

“Oh, not good. Well, good luck in the next round. All right, Edward, give it a good one. Edward, as I recall from last week, is an avid war-gamer, a cross-dresser and works afternoon shift in a hairdressing establishment. In his high-school yearbook, he was voted most likely to succeed in life.”

Again, the wheel went round and round but Edward couldn’t beat Maisy and only got a thirty.

“All right, Maisy, here’s another clue. Are we ready to start playing?”

David Shankbone. (Wiki.)
The audience clapped and whistled as she nodded, waved her arms above her head and bounced up and down in her chicken suit.

“Here’s the clue, and if you can solve it, hit the button and have a go. The sixteenth President’s most famous speech was called this.”

No one slammed the button. Maisy shook her head.

“Well, it’s early in the game yet. Do you want to spin again? You can give up fifty bonus points…”

She shook her head.

“No. I’d like to buy a vowel.”

“Okay.”

“I’d like to buy an ‘e.’”

“That’ll cost you fifty points. There are two ‘e’s, good going.”

Two panels lit up, the second panel, and the third from the last.

“Okay. Can anyone solve the puzzle?” More head shakes.

“Next player, give it a spin.”

Steve Aberarder leaned over and gave it a strong push, and it went around and around.

“Oh!”

The wheel stopped on ten. But it wasn’t all bad news, for the audience saw that a card was lying there on the wheel, shaped to fit and blending into the background.

“Pick it up, pick it up, Steve.”

Steve lifted it up and turned it over so the camera could get a look at it.

It was a thousand-dollar gift certificate for a well-known national credit counseling agency. Steve’s face drooped as he picked it up.

“Steve, can you solve the puzzle? Or would you like another letter?”

“Give me an ‘n.’” Steve spoke without hesitation as the audience clapped spontaneously in response to the warm-up guy’s waving placard.

Consonants were free, vowels cost points.

“Sorry, Steve, no ‘n’s.” Gene looked expectantly off to the right. “Still have time? One more spin? Okay.”

“Edward.” The tall, distinguished looking older man, looking austere and intelligent in his black suit, white shirt and tie in shiny blacks, greys and charcoals, stepped up to the curving rail in front of him and reached over.

“Huh!” The man gave it a spin the likes of which hadn’t been seen on the show in quite some time.

Gene’s mouth dropped open as Sharon clapped enthusiastically and the other two contestants exchanged glances with audience members and supporters behind them. The wheel kept turning, and then showed signs of slowing.

“Let’s hope your luck is changing.” Gene nodded at the camera.

But it was not to be. This time Edward got the ten, and no placard. He looked crestfallen, but just then a whooping, strident, siren-like noise went off and the backlit parts of the set and backdrop began to flash on and off.

Edward’s chin came up and his eyes glittered in the harsh studio lighting over in anticipation.

The studio roared with applause. Everyone cheered, and clapped, and jumped up and down, including Sharon.

“Well, well, well, Edward. Come with me please. You know what this means, don’t you?”

The man was smiling now.

“Yee-hah!”

Grinning, Gene led him off to another backdrop, angled to allow the audience and two of the studio cameras to switch back and forth after a quick dolly back by camera one on the left.

The pair stood in front of a garish carnival sledge-hammer set up, as Gene handed him a big mock hammer with a long wooden handle and a red claw hammer head on it. There was a big chrome pad for the hammer to come down on, a track going straight up marked in feet in amber letters, and the clown’s head behind the striker plate was the marker.

“Lizzie Borden took and axe and gave her mother forty whacks.” Gene smiled his famous smile.

Edward listened to the shouts and encouragement of the studio audience for a moment, taking the time to grin and wave back.

He hefted the hammer speculatively, stepped up to a comfortable position, and took a couple of deep breaths. Then he lifted and swung in one big smooth arc, whereupon there was a big Clang! and the clown’s head shot up the track, with red neon splashing and flickering in tear-drop shapes behind it until it stopped.

“Sixty thousand dollars! Whoa!” Edward was ecstatic.

“Nicely done, sir. That’s right, Edward, a guaranteed acceptance. Sixty thousand dollars on a fourth mortgage, no credit check, easy repayment terms.”

Edward waved at the audience, smiling in relief. You could only lose so many rounds before you were dropped, and at least he would be going home with something.

Gene reached into an inner pocket.

“And, there’s a thousand dollars to go with it.”

Edward jumped up and down, clutching a swath of bills in both hands for the cameras and the folks back home.

“So, we’re back to the puzzle. But first, this important announcement from Abilene Dog Food.”

***

Auditioning for Wheel of Misfortune. > TenPoundHammer. (Wiki.)

After the two-minute commercial break, the show came back on air with a bang.

“Okay, we’re back.” The audience settled down.

Finally the applause petered out.

“Okay, we’re back to Maisy.”

She spun the wheel, this time getting a forty. She still had points left, so she bought another vowel, this time an ‘o.’ Pretty much everyone who played or watched knew that e, t, o, a, and n were the most commonly used letters in the alphabet.

“Sorry, Maisy, no ‘o’s.”

“Steve?”

Steve spun the wheel, perhaps not as hard as the first one, and the thing settled up on fifty.

“Well, that’s better. What do you want to do?”

“I’d like to buy a vowel.”

“All right, which one do you want?”

In the background the audience muttered and called, as Sharon bounced up and down clapping in a cheerful yet restrained manner.

“Give me an ‘a.’”

There was the ‘boop’ sound of a hit and one letter lit up on the board. It was the first letter of the last word.

With lightning speed, Edward’s hand came down on the buzzer.

“Yes?”

“I’d like to solve the puzzle!”

“Are you sure? If you miss, you lose all points and your bonus prize.”

Edward nodded firmly.

“Go ahead.”

“The Gettysburg Address!”

Sirens and whoop-whoops went off in the studio, all the lights flashed and the audience went wild.

Things went quiet again and then came two more boop-sounds.

“Judges agree with the answer. Congratulations, Edward. The Gettysburg Address it is.”

The audience went wild again. Sharon bounced around clapping, Gene stood there smiling and the other contestants tried to get into the spirit of it too, smiling and nodding along as well. With the show only half over, there was still hope for them too.

“All right, ladies and gentlemen, we’ll take a quick break again and come back with the Doors of Fate.”

***

With the sets and camera set up changed, Maisy and Steve were visible on far right while Gene and Edward stood in front of three small rolling type doors, numbered in sequence from left to right.

“What door do you want, Edward?”

Members of the audience began shouting, with none of the three numbers predominant, but Edward listened, grinning, to the racket. Gene patted him on the shoulder with a grin and they just waited for a second. Finally he made an answer.

“Door number…” He held it for drama. “Door number three.”

The audience, or at least a portion of it, screamed and shouted in relief and support and just plain joy.

“So Edward, without further ado, let’s hear what kind of prizes we are looking for.”

Rick Burdette began the spiel.

“Behind one of these doors is a yacht. It’s a sixty-foot cabin cruiser. With the Bel-Air 60’s two-thousand gallon fuel tanks, you’ll be able to cruise to Monaco. Sleeps ten in sybaritic luxury. Prize includes membership in Newport Yacht Club and all cost of training in small vessel operations is free to the lucky winner.”

Edward seemed remarkably cool about such a prize, just shrugging and looking at Gene.

“Behind another door is a two-week time-share in Rio de Janeiro, a set of his and hers Hublot Tourbuillot wristwatches, a set of his and hers gold bags, full of course, and an outdoor jacuzzi Water Sprazzle.”

“And the Grand Prize, which we are all familiar with as it is unchanging and the same from week to week, is behind yet another door.” Gene patted Edward on the back.

“Which one will it be? Door number one, door number two, or door number three?”

From the studio sound system came a long, slow drum roll, beginning down low, all raspy with the snare effect, and then building up and out into a final crescendo, and a sudden silence after one quick rap on the high-hat cymbals.

Gene grinned.

“We must have an answer.”

But Edward seemed a bit dazed, turning back repeatedly to look at the audience, most of whom where shouting their own personal choices at him.

“Oh, God.” He licked his lips. “Door number two!”

People screamed, there was applause, his fellow contestants jumped up and down. Gene extended an arm and led him off to the end of the studio.

“So, here’s number one. Would you like to see what you gave up for Door Number Two?”

The routine, the same every week, was popular and kept audience numbers high in survey after survey.

With a sick look but a grin nevertheless, Edward shrugged.

“Yes.”

“Yes! He said yes!” Gene laughed and slapped his thigh as Sharon clapped.

“He said yes!” It was her first line tonight and she delivered it with gusto as Gene put a hand up to his brow as if to block out the lights.

“I thought that was you.”

Sharon laughed and gave Gene a big thumbs-up.

A bell clanged and the door went up. Edward’s hands flew up to his mouth, then dropped to his sides. The shape of a big yacht, and some other trifles was revealed by the time it was three-quarters of the way up, and the audience reacted accordingly with clapping, hisses, boos, and then a general burst of laughter.

“Two more doors to go, Edward.”

Edward put his hands up over his face, and then Gene led him back closer to the central area as cameras moved to follow.

“Here we are, Edward, it’s Door Number Three.”

Edward rubbed his face in stress and tension, then catching sight of the camera, smiled and waved. He stood there biting his lip.

“Well, we won’t torment you any more.” Gene made a signal.

U.S. Army Africa. (Wiki.)
The door began to creep up.

While this one was dimmer than the previous, when the door got to a certain height Edward could see along with the audience and the viewers at home that there were furnishings in there, along with some windows, curtains, even a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. A backdrop of a famous beach scene, backed up by hotels, sparkling water and a familiar terrain showed that this was the time-share in Rio prize.

Sharon stepped out from around the corner. Holding up a wrist, she pointed at an expensive-looking watch on her arm.

“Oh! The time-share.”

“And that just leaves Door Number Two. Your door, Edward. Do you want to see it?”

Edward sagged at the knees but nodded dumbly.

“Yes.” You could barely make it out, but he said it.

With a theatrical creak and a groan, slowly it began to rise.

“So, as you know, Edward, our Grand Prize is the same every week. We pay off your mortgage. We pay off your credit card bills, and outstanding accounts. If you can locate the paperwork, and if you owe someone money, we pay the bill. But there’s more. We pay off your cars, and—get this, Edward, we sent your kids, all of them, to college. You get your credit rating back again.”

The door allowed studio lighting to enter, combining to fully illuminate the object that dominated the space inside what looked like a shipping container by its corrugated metal sides and the numbers stenciled on the end frame.

The Guillotine.

“So, Edward, I have to ask. How does it feel?

“Fantastic.” Edward sighed deeply, staring at the infernal machine with glorious intent.

“We even buy you a family plot for up to six people, and a very nice headstone.”

Edward nodded.

“At last. I’m finally free.”

Gene’s eyes gleamed into the lens and the director took a commercial break.

#

Studio music swelled up as they prepared for the next part of the show. This involved one final family reconciliation scene, the execution itself, and the turning over of the documents.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, with Sharon in particular affected by the little girls thanking their father for paying off the family debt and giving them a shot, a real shot at making it in affluent American suburban society.

Then it was one final spin of the wheel, after bringing on a new contestant, a certain Alison Withers of Pensacola Florida, a tall, spare woman of indeterminate age but probably high fifties.

She was immaculately prepared.

She was a radiologist, had seventeen purebred Sphynx cats, was a certified Neuro-Linguistic Programmer, and gave extensively to charities in third world countries. When she could squeeze it in, she was into Tai-Bo, ran, and did a fair amount of shopping for antiques, especially dolls and figurines with any kind of Regency connection.


END











Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Interview.

Testing your responses.







I had a new job. The trouble was that I had no idea of what it actually was. I think it was a big warehouse or something with a lot of office space up in the front two floors of the building, all kinds of people coming and going.

Everyone in the place was ignorant, or threatening or abusive. Either that, or they ignored me, just rolling their eyes when I tried to talk to them. They were all nuts. Nothing they said made any sense, and I had no idea of why I was there—I hadn’t worked in years and I sure as hell wasn’t looking for a job, not that I recall. You’d think that I would remember something like that.

Finally, when I just couldn’t take it anymore, I turned to the nearest guy and let him have a big one right in the kisser. My arm went out to its fullest extension and I caught him on the side of the face, slightly high so I wouldn’t bust his jaw.

He went down.

#

I was confronted by a sloping concrete wall, and I was standing in a foot of water. I wanted out of there real bad so I dropped to my knees and began clawing at the mud and gravel where the slot allowed the dirty coffee-coloured water to flow under and out of the tunnel.

The gap was too shallow. The slot was too small for my body to squeeze through, and there was just a thin slice of air above it. If I could lower the water level, maybe I could slither through on my back. There was light out there. It would take a while, and turning, I saw to my relief a square patch of sunny glare only fifteen metres behind me.

I was in a culvert or something under a road. That must be it.

Sloshing my way to the daylight, the sides of a ditch or drainage canal sloped up, all covered in thick green grass, curling and uneven. The sky was blue, with thin high clouds. The sides of the ditch were ten or twelve feet high. The sides must have been seventy-five degrees. Cold water flowed past my feet as I tried to kick or cut a foothold. Grabbing grass, I pulled myself up, attempting to plunge my fingers into the soil, but it was harder and drier than I thought. It took a couple of attempts, but I made it up, kicking and clawing all the way…

#

My little red sports-car handled fine. It was a lovely summer’s evening about seven o’clock. Dodging oncoming traffic, I pulled off the left side of the road into a field, with a big down-slope and trees coming up fast. I picked a thin spot and discovered it was a narrow lane through the trees, although I had to steer right and left to avoid the bigger ones. The grass was very green. The ground was smooth, or at this speed I would have been bounced right out.

I got to the bottom and the other side began curving up, but I turned left and over in a big arc and then followed the valley up a hillside and over the top, to a wide, open street where I bounced down over a curb. I turned left again, went about two blocks and pulled right into the driveway of a French Colonial house, a monster of a home. The garage door opened so I put the car in there.

I walked through the place, it was very quiet in there, and it had a couch and a few items of furniture. There no curtains on the windows and light streamed in. All the windows were closed. There was a bedroom, and there were empty rooms but someone had been using the kitchen recently. There was cold coffee in a pot and a little food in the fridge. I saw one or two dishes in a rack. I was standing in the end of the kitchen when car doors slammed and some people came in. One guy in an expensive charcoal grey suit came in, and walked right past me. There were voices in the house, but I didn’t see where they went. He went into the other room.

He sat in a chair in the living room and opened up a newspaper as I came in.

He glanced up, and went to the next page, but then he ignored me and I wondered if he belonged there. It could have been my house.

Something wasn’t right here.

There was a funny pricking pain at my left temple. I felt thin wires on my neck, hard, like bell wire going down to somewhere else, and on the side of my head a round pad of something shiny…like plastic.

#

“Not bad.”

“What?”

Jerking against some kind of restraints, I looked wildly around. I wanted so badly to sit up.

We sat in an office, with me in a dentist’s chair. I was wired for sound, wrists strapped to the arms of the chair.

“Congratulations. You’ve got the job.”

“What?”

“Only eleven seconds to pull yourself back to reality. That’s very impressive.”

“What? Who the hell are you?”

“Welcome to the firm.”

He came over and began unsnapping buckles.

“What’s this all about?”

“It’s okay. You passed the test with flying colours.”

All of this was a just little too surreal to me.

“Screw you. I don’t want the job.”

He threw his head back and laughed.

“Don’t worry. You’ll fit right in around here.”

#

And it was true, too.

I’ve been working here for, ah, I don’t know, about twenty-nine years now, and I just love every minute of it.

###


Author's Note: Presently, employers can check out prospective employees on Facebook and Twitter, use photo-search to find their faces on other sites, and check them out in any number of ways. Bearing in mind there will be far fewer 'good' jobs in the future, they can afford to pick and choose. Also, with the market so tight, people will submit willingly to almost any indignity and give up almost any and all privacy in order to get one of those coveted jobs. People have always given up freedom for bread, a sad truth but a truth nevertheless.

In this case, the subject signed a waiver and certain portions of his memories and even his personality have been carefully wiped.

On the other hand, he gets a whopping $11.00 an hour and some small benefits from his employer, including an annual picnic in a local park and a gaily-striped unform with his name on it which he wears as he flips burgers.

At the company picnic, he even gets to watch junior executives with professional amusement as they struggle to cook a burder for him once in awhile.

Remember, you learned it here first.

-Louis

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Exchanger.

Fossil-fuel power plant. (WKnight94. Wiki.)






Fred never even knew what an exchanger was until he climbed into one. It’s basically just a heat-exchanger. This one was for hot gases. The space they were in was for maintenance.

An exchanger is two plates of steel, punched full of two-inch holes, set so far apart. Between the two plates is a series of steel tubes, hundreds of them, all welded into place. Hot gases go through the pipes, cold air passes around them. The welds are inspected as the system must hold a given pressure and temperature. The exchanger is welded into a flue, and a cross-flue brings in cool outside air, which flows around the tubes and goes into the combustion chambers pre-heated. It boosts the efficiency of the system. At least that was what Fred thought.

He had dropped out of high school. Hot air from the smoke stack is cooled inside the tubes. Solids in the gas stream condense in the exchanger. It reduces emissions. Every so often guys like him get to suit up, wear goggles, work boots, ear plugs and a hard hat. They clip a respirator on their belts, and carry a couple thousand pounds of tools and equipment up catwalks and ladders. They bring it all in through an eighteen-inch hatch,. They squat and crawl around in a room four and a half feet high, ten feet wide and thirty feet long, with a floor and ceiling full of those damned two-inch holes, and clean them out with a snake. They get to make nine, or ten, or eleven bucks an hour if the guys around him were anything to go by. Starting off at nine, he’d get a buck an hour raise in about six months or so many hours worked. Fred knew the snake intimately by now. Once pink, it was now a grubby red. It was one-point-one inches in diameter and weighed about eighty pounds per fifty foot length. It leaked ‘x’ amount of air at every metallic snap-joint, which slowed the rate of rotation…but didn’t make it any easier on the hauling.

He was eating a lot lately and seemed to crave sleep.

They had all swapped stories over the lunch trailer table, and one or two of them seemed to know each other. They hung out on the weekends at some place up the lake with their wives and kids.

They knew a little bit about each other, but there was always a new face and you only shared what was comfortable. Fred was fitting in. He was drawing a pay cheque, and he had managed to survive the bull work and crappy shifts, always being called in at the last minute, up until now.

They were on the southeast side of the powerhouse, where a tangle of yellow-painted ductwork led into the bottom of Stack One. No one had even the slightest idea of what was in the crud. No one really cared. They just tried to keep it out of their eyes, and their mouths, and some wore dust masks in a forlorn effort to avoid breathing it in.

Macrofouling of exchanger tubes. (tapprogge.de. Wiki.)
There are two operations involved. A generator on the ground provides air pressure to a series of rotating ‘snakes,’ basically a wire bottle-brush on the end of a cable, enclosed inside of a greasy, laminated rubber tube, soft on the outside so it can be handled. It goes around and around and scrubs those tubes right out. There are two snakes and two pairs of guys working in the chamber. It also makes power for the lights, on the ends of hundreds of feet of extension cord. The crew consisted of eight labourers, an operator for the vacuum truck, and the foreman. Two or three are on the ground at any given time, watching over the truck and generator or just on break. The foreman comes and goes, checking on other jobs throughout the plant as the firm had a lot going on during the shutdown.

Guys sort of didn’t like him hanging around, looking over their shoulders all of the time, and all foremen knew that instinctively. He was there to problem-solve but not otherwise interfere. They knew he was around. This was a good crew. He knew it and they knew he knew it. Or so someone had figured only just the day before.

The men sit on a plastic milk crate, the only thing that has been found to be the right height and able to take the weight. Men shove that rubber snake up those tubes for twenty-five feet or so until it pops out into the open flue or chamber which lies, presumably, above the exchanger. Fred had never been up there. You could do fifteen or twenty holes in a half-hour shot. He’d only been working for the company for about three weeks.

Fred’s arms, shoulders and neck were aching, as he sat in the harsh shadows of the quartz-halogen working lights. It was the second of three shifts on nights. They were about four hours into it. He pulled the snake out and looked at his watch before shoving it up the next tube. His partner Lloyd pulled the screaming vacuum hose away and chalked an ‘x’ beside the tube he had just done.

The whine of the snake and the howl of the vacuum hose and the guys working on the other end, yelling back and forth, all combined to make talk difficult.

“Another ten minutes.” They were doing half-hour shots.

Lloyd nodded. Then it would be his turn, and Fred could sit there and rest so to speak. He would also have to hold their vacuum hose, the end of it securely taped to a four-foot length of hockey stick, and try to grab as much crud as he could when it fell out of the hole. Otherwise they would be knee-deep in it and have to shovel it out. Also, the next reactor, right underneath them, still had to be done. It was better than the snake. After that it would be Fred’s first break.

Vacuum Truck. (Remi Kaupp, Wiki.)
The whole crew was filthy with the yellowish crusty stuff that fell out of the tubes.

An inevitable question from one of the new guys, asking why they had to go in from the bottom, had been quickly answered. It prevented clogs and jams, which was what happened when tubes were bored out from above. The crud went down holes already half-plugged, and so they didn’t do it that way. Pulling the snakes back up wouldn’t have been much better anyway. It might have been worse, when he thought about it.

It was six of one and half a dozen of the other for the men involved.

It was killing work, and their twelve-hour shifts were carefully calculated to produce as much progress as possible, with the smallest possible crew, while at the same time just trying to survive for the next shift. They all took equal turns at each job. The safety man outside the hatch, walky-talky in his lap and seated on his own plastic box, would rotate though when his turn came too. There was another labourer down by the vacuum truck as the operator didn’t do unskilled labour, not at any price, and they might need something or someone.

Fred was just looking over at the other guys. Cursing, Davis yanked and tugged at the stiff hose, all curled up around his feet and kinking and moving on its own volition seemingly, as he gave the pink, fleshy-coloured thing another downward pull and a cloud of dust came down in his lap.

His helper Johnson caught Fred’s eye and he giggled like a schoolgirl. He winked at Fred. That’s when he put the end of the three-inch vacuum hose up to Davis’s crotch area. It snapped on with a sick gulping sound and the sounds in the room quickly went up to a higher wavelength.

That’s when they learned nine hundred pounds of vacuum pressure on a black plastic corrugated hose could suck a man’s guts right out of him in no time flat.

Davis was already dead by the time his face jerked down, as white in the gills and big in the eyes as any man ever seen before or since. His arms fell way from the snake, which hung motionless. His mouth was a big round ‘O.’ Johnson stopped laughing, yanked the hose aside in a pink cloud of nameless goo, flung it behind him, and then put his hands up to his mouth. The spreading red stain on the middle of Davis’s white coveralls, right in between the legs, began to drip and flow. No one said a word. Lloyd’s back was turned anyway. He didn’t know what was going on.

But Davis was already dead as he settled slowly backwards off of his perch, holding onto the middle of what was left of him, and making loud rasping sounds, the noise of his falling imperceptible in the roar and whine of the tools.

It just took a while to figure it out.


***



Friday, June 7, 2013

How to blog actively.

Analytics are free with Blogger.





In the last twelve months this blog has received about 64,000 readers using the principles of active blogging, which I define as reposting it on a number of social platforms, rather than just writing something and waiting for the readers to discover it. I rarely worry about the small number of actual followers.

Principles of Active Blogging.

Another principle is regular blogging, and a third aspect of it is audience-building. The blog should have as much original, unique content as the writer can create, and it helps to stay on topic and avoid the more virulent rants although the writer should have something to say.

There should be some deep and fundamental message overall from your work, which will mean that your blog is greater than the sum of all its parts when taken as a whole, an ongoing work of performance art that can outlive its maker. Your personality should be stamped all over it. What is the theme of your blog?

In the article on Active versus Passive Blogging, I mention Squidoo and Hubpages. I haven’t been there in a while. First, with a free account you rarely get any analytics. I have no idea how many people read them, and in order to build up an audience you need some feedback. Also, it’s probably better to focus on one or a small number of platforms and find out what works. Then the knowledge can be applied to any platform. This is what I call Experiments in Publishing, where I talk about measuring results and keeping an open mind more than anything. It’s about constantly trying new things and discarding that which clearly doesn’t work.

Search Engine Optimization

The simplest things you can do about SEO includes a good title. The title should be matched in terms of key words in the first line, within the body of your text, and in the tags. The search engine bots look for key words. Original content is better than a quick paragraph linked to other people’s material, a sterile sort of writing that is effective at SEO and simple page-hits, but disappointing to the reader who searched for the information with some good reason in mind. You have wasted their time in a quick grab for page-hits and that comes across just fine to the readers.

Common hallmarks of an SEO optimized story are little headings—you can use them too, things like lists in bullet-point, because search engines don’t analyze style. SEO-type articles often lead you off to much better stories when you click on the links. I use SEO principles, but not to the exclusion of new, original, and if you don’t mind my saying so, superior content. I say that because I have done this and received these results. I have made myself an ‘authority’ in certain subjects. It takes time and application. How-to articles on anything you are good at make for excellent, search-engine friendly stories because there is always someone looking it up online.

This morning I got up and had breakfast and then my mom called and we talked for fifteen minutes, and then I made a cake.

On bakery, and all things foible.

How to make a devil’s food cake.

If someone needs to know how to make a devil’s food cake, what key words are they most likely to type into their search field? Simple and specific is good.

Here is an example of a good story written with SEO principles in mind, but also with an eye to what someone might actually want to read for its own sake. Look at the title, the tags, and the content of Zach Neal's story, 'Ontario has Natural and Historical Diversity.' The funny thing is, it doesn’t look like an SEO article. What it has is unique content, with a unique combination of elements—pictures, trees, animals, rivers, streams, and personal anecdotes. At least one picture is required to post anything on a site like Pinterest, yet bloggers constantly post stuff without a picture at all. Most of them have cameras on their phones if nothing else. Morguefile has thousands of free images. All you have to do is crop it and you can use it anywhere, (read the license.)

Goals.

The blog should have a clear goal. If you want to blog and be read by as many people as possible, that represents a goal. If I want my blog to be read because it helps people to discover my books, then the goal is slightly more complex, but it’s still a clear and resonant goal. One might judge this blog a failure because it’s not getting a million hits a year. But judging by previous performance, about 5,900 views in four years or so, it’s clearly well on the way to success. In ten years, at the present rate, I would have 700,000 hits on a free, ‘amateur’ blog. If I want more hits, I can do a number of things. I can post it on more platforms, I can write more often, I can write more focused material, and of course I can keep building up that audience on Twitter, Facebook, etc. I can interact more, which results in retweets and re-posting by others. People will pin my stuff on Pinterest and bring it to their own unique audience.

Are you too passive in your blogging? (Adjitize.net.)

This story was published at lunch hour, and will be posted to a half dozen major social platforms. A blog with ten entries carries less weight than one with hundreds, and over time this has an effect as well. It helps to develop a core readership who will come back for a read time and time again.

END

Monday, June 3, 2013

Depression: Night and Day.

The thousand-yard stare.





The difference between a normal mood and depression is like night and day.

A buddy posted the following link on Facebook, and while I’m sure he meant well, it kind of sent me into a tailspin of depression that has lasted close to three weeks now. Anyhow, thanks for the heads-up.

It’s all about the provincial government stealing $469.00 a month from the disabled and putting them out into the streets. (Toronto Star.) 

And the list of symptoms on Wikipedia is bang-on. 

“Life events and changes that may precipitate depressed mood include childbirth, menopause, (or andropause, as I will be 54 this summer,) financial difficulties, job problems, relationship troubles, separation, bereavement and catastrophic injury...” (Like when you fall from a scaffold and break your back in three places, which ensures a life sentence of poverty, pain and suffering.)

And society’s biggest priority is to label you something other than an injured worker, too many of whom end up on disability or welfare, homeless and on the streets. Injured workers deserve justice—now we can’t have that, can we? Justice costs money after all.

Here’s an interesting perspective; is it terrorism/ Or is it just mental illness? (Psychology Today.)

Beating depression without the use of drugs: yes, and I hope you sell a lot of books, too. (Guardian.)

Why antidepressants don’t work. (Huffington Post.)

I know this to be true, as I was on Ativan, (Larazepam) for seven years. The withdrawal was sheer hell, and I weaned myself off of them over the course of some months. Even then, it was like my skin was crawling for about the next three and a half years, and there was a temptation to go back on it, if only for a little while, if only to get some relief. Long-term use leads to further psychotic effects. That’s because anxiety and depression can only be squelched for so long, and something has to give. Something will trigger it, and give rise to an expression of it. Of course, after relying on the dope for so long, I really didn’t have any coping skills. I had to learn some new ones. Just to warm the cockles of the bourgeoisie, you should know that they prescribe this shit like candy in our nation's jails. But of course, it doesn't work. Also, it increases psychosis, including paranoia and agression. Also, it's very cheap and the docs get a kickback. They have a vested interest, just as anyone working in the industry, to ensure the problem of crime never goes away. And they'll have jobs for life. They can buy nice big houses and live in calm and sequestered dignity.

The depression would be bad enough without the aggression, the irritability, the inability to do any work at all, even work I once enjoyed. That attack-dog syndrome is hard on the self-esteem, for we over-react to almost any provocation, and we live in provocative times. Naturally, we feel like shit afterwards.

The only good thing I can say about depression is the contrast. When it’s over you know it’s over. When other people are having a normal day, you feel fantastic—because you’re not depressed anymore. The difference is that vivid.

***

This may not help, but I wrote something about depression a long time ago. It’s a poem of sorts.



What about depression?

Give us your first impression

***

It hits like a physical blow

One is aware, that it will eventually go

But there is nothing else that you can do

In the meantime.

You can’t smile, you can’t laugh

No matter how funny the joke is

You feel a sense of shame

Because you cannot control

The way your face goes

It seems to be triggered;

A responsive phenomena

The switch

Into manic, sudden and intense

Uncomfortable, yet fantastic

You don’t need heroin when you’re manic

Like you could almost climb Mount Everest—

If you felt like it. But that’s for insecure people.

Ah! If only there were time. Still, while it lasts…

Seems like nothing and no one can touch you

Those are the really precious times, for it ends too soon.

But it’s when you are normal

Whatever that word defines

Trying to level out, all the peaks and valleys,

That’s what it’s all about

It’s the only true perspective

Now I must go forth, unto the grocery store

Get while the getting’s good; for after all

Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

While I still have a sense of self esteem.

And anybody that don’t like that can bite me.


END